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Ils ont a votre porte

As I continue to hunt for the house of my dreams (or, at least, some approximation thereof), I look forward to the cozy, comforting feeling of being safely tucked away in my own little world.

So I prolly should’ve just kept walking when I spotted Right At Your Door on the shelf at Blockbuster. And I should’ve declined to add Ils to my ZipList. Mea culpa.

Ils (or Them) is a creepy little French/Romanian film that scared the shit outta me.

I think I wore the same expression while I was watching it!

I really hate to compare it to The Blair Witch Project — given that film’s many detractors — but Ils has much in common with the pseudo-documentary’s ability to spook you without relying too much on horrific visuals. I’m a firm believer that what you don’t see is often more terrifying than anything on-screen, and Ils is a perfect example of such classic filmmaking techniques. Remember the spine-tingling knock-knock-knocking in the Robert Wise classic The Haunting? How about the bouncing ball in Peter Medak’s The Changeling? It’s that kind of horror. Subtle yet effective.
T. Rigney, Blogcritics

It’s a very low budget but nicely put-together little piece that may make you think twice about getting that nice weekend place out in the countryside…

It is allegedly based on a true story, but that is most likely a bogus claim. I suspect this is just an example of viral marketing. Anyhow, that doesn’t matter.

Ils is about a young French couple, Clementine and Lucas Saveur, who have just moved into a large but crumbly country estate in the Romanian woods. After a prologue which succeeded in making me scrunch down into the corner of the couch, wide-eyed and with my blankie tucked up just under my nose, when Clementine is subsequently awakened by a sound outside the house in the middle of the night it became clear to me that I was prolly not going to sleep well, myself, that night. And I didn’t.

With no fanfare, no special fx, no CGI–in fact, relying only on extremely effective editing and sound design, the kind of tense composition within the frame that makes you strain to see around the “corner” of it, as well as tightly-tuned performances by both leads–Ils is an unsettling little movie to watch. I don’t want to tell you much about the plot because too much plot knowledge can ruin a thing like this. Suffice to say that I was (very pleasantly) surprised by how this story turned out. Take your cue from the review I quoted above: if you like your “monsters” front-and-centre, fuggeddabuddit. This movie ain’t for youse. If you like the kind of creeping dread in those other movies he mentions, then I think you’ll like this one.

My only complaint is that the DVD is dubbed from French to English and I prefer subtitles. Small complaint, really.

Right At Your Door played at Sundance ’06–the year I volunteered at the festival–but I didn’t see it until a few days ago.

Knock knock.  Who's there?

Writer/director Chris Gorak‘s film looks at what happens when multiple dirty bombs explode in Los Angeles, but rather than look at the big picture–as y’r big budget H’wood movie would–this story tightens its focus on one couple and what happens to them when the wife, Lexi, is caught downtown (one of the targets of the bombs) while the husband, Brad, is at home in the hills. The director says that he wants to show the kinds of psychological limitations that are around us in this post-9/11 world.

I think this film might provoke some potentially uncomfortable conversations between couples, so you might not wanna watch it with y’r sweetie… See, the bombs contaminate those people who are exposed to them (Lexi) and those who haven’t been exposed (Brad) are instructed to seal up their homes to prevent the contaminated air from seeping in. The (miraculous) thing is, Lexi manages to survive the initial blasts and get outta downtown and back home–only to find Brad on the other side of the front door, inside his scotchtape-and-saranwrap barricade. So you have Brad on the inside, in the uncontaminated air, and Lexi on the outside, in the contaminated air. If you were Brad, what would you do? I certainly know what I’d do.

As with Ils, you may be surprised by how Right At Your Door ends. Whether it comes as a pleasant or unpleasant surprise depends on what you think of Brad’s decision.

Again, the style of the film suits its subject. It’s told in close-ups, which only serve to emphasize the claustrophia of being in the sealed house. We see a few extreme long shots of downtown L.A., with clouds of smoke and dust and debris rising towards the hills, but the film’s focus is intimate. Gorak uses the constantly playing radio to tell the larger story and I suppose this has as much to do with the limited budget as it has to do with the media saturation in our lives. I think the idea of the film a little better than the execution–the script is a little weak and meandering at times–but I do certainly like the conflict at the centre of it. Even though I think Brad is a numbnuts.

Stock up!

→ originally published 2008-03-23

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